Nautilus International, the union for maritime professionals, has called for shipping companies and employers within the maritime industry to pay closer attention to seafarers’ mental wellbeing.
The third Monday of January each year has been dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ ever since British scientist Cliff Arnell, in 2006, calculated it to be the most depressing day of the year using an equation that considers the following factors: weather conditions; debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay); time expired since Christmas day; time since failing our New Year’s resolutions; low motivational levels; and feeling a need to take action.
According to the Office of National Statistics, one in six adults are experiencing a mental health problem at any one time and – due to the unique nature of the seafaring profession, where workers often find themselves isolated and separated from friends and family – seafarers can be particularly at risk of having poor mental health.
An October 2019 Yale University study, sponsored by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, revealed deeply concerning levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among the global shipping workforce. For the first time, the survey was also able to link poor mental health with a greater likelihood of illness and injury on board a vessel. Factors associated with feelings of depression and anxiety included lack of adequate training, exposure to threats or violence on the job, low occupational satisfaction, and ill health.
Nautilus has also identified seafarer fatigue as being one of the biggest issues that continues to threaten health and safety in the shipping industry, and one that has a direct correlation with mental health.
In 2018, Nautilus, with the RMT union and the UK Chamber of Shipping, agreed new guidelines to help shipping companies develop policies to protect and promote the mental wellbeing of seafarers and to ensure that they know who they can turn to in times of need. The union continues to highlight the extensive evidence of accidents caused by fatigue and is campaigning for more effective regulations to prevent excessive working hours.
The Sailors’ Society has also campaigned for regulatory change that adapts to seafarer mental health needs. Currently, about 3,500 people have signed a petition raised by the Sailors’ Society to the International Labour Organization (ILO) that calls for a change to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to make wellness training for seafarers mandatory.
Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson said, “Seafaring truly is a unique industry and while posing its own challenges, is a profession that can be extremely rewarding and offers a completely different experience to many onshore, from 9 am to 5 pm jobs. That said – as in any industry – there are still a number of improvements that need to be made to working conditions in order to reduce the threat of workers suffering from poor mental health,’’ he concluded.